Emily and I watched a documentary last night called Darkon. Darkon is a live action role playing organization based out of Baltimore. Men and women dress up as knights, warriors, maidens, elves, etc to do battle in a complex, alternative world they've created.
I'd heard about this movie from an screenwriter/author, let's call him Dom Derotta, that comedian/author John Hodgman is writing a fictional adaptation about these LARPer's to become a movie sometime soon. The subject is ripe for funny. And being someone who has always wanted to play Dungeons and Dragons, but never has, I rented the source.
I expected something like last years' King of Kong, where two nerdy gamers battle it out to gain the highest score on the original Donkey Kong. In my mind that movie was not a success because the premise seemed so absurd for a full length documentary that it could only be funny to hold attention, but because its cup runneth over with compassion and sincerity. The characters were driven, but not obsessed. They were likable in their roles and you understood them. It brought people into their world and experience.
Darkon proved a different breed.
The subjects of Darkon seemed so immersed in their gaming world that the language of fantasy and the language of reality were interspersed any given time they opened their mouth. The game, seemingly, never stopped. Battle plans are made at the family diner table. Alliances discussed at a Denny's. By the characters assuming the roles of the game and acting them out, it was nearly impossible to tell when the game was on or off.
The filmmakers objectives, as they've stated, were to bring the viewer into the fantasy of the storyline. Not to understand these people, but to be a part of it. The movie was very explicit that the subjects are unhappy with their real lives, so they use Darkon as an escape. This is hammered into the viewers brain with a numbing redundancy. However, the only thing that keeps fantasy being fantasy is its limitations. It must have borders. Otherwise it becomes reality - in this case a possible unstable one, because the fantasy comes from an impetus of unhappiness. The filmmakers also drew countless parallels to psychological roles humans play in their everyday existence. What makes them fail as examples is that the roles they chose to enhance their metaphor (the respectful roles assumed when going to a wedding, the roles assumed when working at Starbucks) have an end. Donkey Kong ultimately has an end. Their is a separation and a detachment. Darkon has no end.
It was interesting to hear the language of everyday reality come into conflict with the fantasized, antiquated, Norman english, as perpetuated by Hollywood myth. It was also interesting to watch these people improvise and act out their roles. They truly hammed it up, but was it for the camera? Its hard to say. But this performance behavior is typical of a child. How have they preserved their imaginations?
At one point there is a long segment where we watch one of the main"characters" young boys' play out a violent fantasy with a fake sword. The scene goes on for a long time, with him hacking away at air. It is exactly like his fathers' fantasy, except the boy is maybe six years old. It seems normal for him to act this way. That is one interesting question the movie brings up, is the acceptance of imagination.
I love imagination. I try to put it into writing. Into many things. But I don't use it as an escape, or at least not always. Otherwise, why come back? And maybe that ultimately that is the problem with Darkon. It is escapism in an unhealthy manner. Why is it unhealthy? Is it because they have children and societal responsibilities? Not really. It is not my place to judge them, especially when they aren't harming anyone. Accept maybe themselves.
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Posted by Brian Foley at 2:53 PM